I'm not going to lie, I was nervous about taking poetry. The creative writing department requires all majors to take the intro class for all three types of writing: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I understand why. Most students come in with their minds set on one of the three (usually fiction, because that's what they know and are used to reading), and throughout these other classes they discover a love for a different genre they never would've known about if they hadn't been forced to take the class.
Regardless, going into this class, I was not thrilled. Tom is teaching an English class at the same time, one I wanted desperately to be in, and I didn't understand poetry anyway. I didn't know how to critique someone's poem...I was convinced I'd be wasting my time. Fast forward seven weeks...I'm still not sure how to critique a poem, though I'm slowly learning what works and what doesn't. Karla, my professor, gives us tons of writing exercises and helps us experiment with different styles of poems.
My progress so far: I put a poem up for workshop at the beginning of the semester and completely crashed and burned. I tried to treat it like a short story but learned that poems are completely different. Since then, I've turned in two poems for Karla to grade and received Bs on both. I'm shooting for one A on a poem this semester! In a small group workshop, my group members liked a poem I'd written that had a lot of imagery and description, so I think I'm going to steer more towards that in the future.
What I've learned: When writing a poem, instead of squashing a plot or character motivations into a tiny block of text, it's better to focus on an image, emotion, or moment. It's like a zoom lens, magnifying a small piece instead of an entire story. The poems I've written that have been most successful have been about an object (a guitar), a feeling (wanderlust), and a state of mind (dealing with an unhappy home).
I'm also figuring out how to workshop my own poems. How to cut unnecessary words (which is different than cutting unnecessary pieces in fiction) and search for patterns and reoccurring images. I definitely won't master poetry by the end of the semester, but I won't be scared of it anymore!